Boys & Girls Clubs have historically served the underdog, the forgotten, those deemed hopeless and dispensable with a purpose of building the tools that would ensure greater chances of independence, agency, and productivity. Clubs today still serve those children who need us most, but that definition is changing. Why?
With the technological advances in telecommunications and the significant percentage of wealth and commuting workforce, youth who need us most now are often those who have resources and no supervision, access to handheld communication devices including social media and video chat, children who now have access through those devices to explicit material, unfiltered peer pressure and bullying, and resources for legal and illegal substances. No longer is a child subject to abuse, neglect, human trafficking, or abandonment the only child who needs us most.
According to the Youth Opportunity Index, although Fauquier scores a B overall for youth opportunities, we also have the highest number of deaths related to alcohol / drug abuse or suicide (per 100,000 population) compared to Virginia, other similar counties, and the national average. Why?
If the data collected by the 2015 Fauquier County Pride Survey and the Duke Child Well-being study are correct, we are seeing an exponential increase in cases of anxiety, depression and other stress and trauma related behaviors that results in increased substance abuse (self-medication), social dysfunction, and lack of appropriately developed resilience. The hypothesis is increased academic, athletic and social expectations, but I would also add diminished social development and limited understanding of societal norms and behavioral expectations. Why?
Two articles came to my attention recently, one about Chick-fil-A teaching their employees to say please and thank you and another stating that our average IQ is declining. Why?
We as humans are hardwired to see each other’s faces and hear each other’s voices when we interact. Undoubtedly, our sophisticated neurological makeup has the capability to evolve, but we have not had time. It was only 30 years ago that high schoolers had no clue what a cell phone, computer or social media was or how to read media clues to find resources for drugs, or how to bully a peer without ever facing that person’s pain. In my opinion, we’ve lost touch with ourselves. Therefore, we don’t know how to teach our kids how not to lose touch with themselves.
The Duke Well-being study shows a steady decline in emotional/spiritual well-being, overall health and fitness, and social relationships while a steady increase in risky behaviors and “community engagement.” My question is what kind of community engagement? Community engagement through a screen? The data is complex.
We owe it to our youth to teach the value of real, face-to-face relationships. Relationships where laughter, tears, joy, discovery, and sometimes fear and pain are shared and understood. Where empathy and inclusion guides healthy behaviors because ethical judgment is taught and practiced. Where youth see both greatness and needs for improvement in their community, large or small, and they participate in the solution-finding process because they have a voice and they have the confidence and tools to use it effectively.
This is why Boys & Girls Clubs exist in our community and in many communities nationwide. Our passion for our work and proven outcomes is what sets us apart. We love our community and want to be sure the children we serve share that commitment into the future! -Lynne Richman Bell, CEO